Sagrario Tradicion

I may not write as often as I used to but there is no doubt that I research the occasional posts more thoroughly. In Kaleja recently I had every item on the menu, my recent post on the Barajuelas was the result of about 20 liters of the stuff over the years and this long-overdue post is the product of no less than six visits to my new high class neighbourhood neotaberna.

The first visit was a sober affair with a good friend but despite not opening a single bottle of wine we saw enough to see we were in the right place – from the tomatoes to the croquettes to the quail, the turbot in pil pil and the flan in amontillado. Absolutely cracking stuff – worth coming back here.

Second visit was for callos, mellow and aromatic callos, with a fascinating 2006 airen, some lovely natural style burgundy, the pluma in a bun and flan again. More top trucking.

Third visit was a long and genial dinner with some good friends and the boss here, Nico – a real character and really good bloke who knows his wine and is generous with his brandy. And he knows his cold cuts too – the shaved aged steak with shavings of foie was bonkers, the others not far behind and as for the torreznos and frogs legs …

Well suffice it to say that I came back for the frogs legs. Big healthy frogs from the North of Spain, in a pisto with a big fried egg on it. The perfect symbol of this place – haute cuisine in down home style. And with it cocido “stuffing” – superb – a glass of Fresquito and then a stunning late albariño – O Rebusco – well worth going back and searching for.

But of course when I went back there was none left, so I made do with a cracking little cod salad, a kind of high end ploughmans, followed by the biggest leg of rabbit I have ever seen washed down with more of the good stuff, including a truly special Vin Jaune.

And then a quick lunch today with some beautiful smokey roasted peppers from Benavente and a pepitoria made with a rooster that could, by its bones, have been mistaken for a dinosaur. And this with a lovely glass of the Williams & Humbert 2012 fino – which is just beautiful stuff – and another lovely natural wine.

This is not your average neighbourhood restaurant. For a start it is well, well above average, and most importantly, it is in my neighbourhood.

Kaleja Part II

It is not often that words fail me but I am struggling, and have been struggling for several weeks, to find the terminology to describe my second visit to Kaleja.

If my first visit was almost furtive, ensconced at the bar with my head down, this time it was an occasion and, oh boy, what an occasion it turned out to be. I had what could be termed the extra long menu – one of everything – and it lead to a couple of hours of proving the fallacy of the good time/long time dichotomy.

The pictures here tell at least some of the story, of dish after outstanding dish, but you would need more than a 1000 words to adequately describe some of these.

Looking at them it is hard to know where to start. Maybe the dish that had the biggest impact on me was the huevas con fetta – a little flavour bomb of fishy and cheesy salinity and freshness. The dish I would have repeated over and over the squid in butter, or maybe the beans in ham, or the foie in salpicon, or the gamba, or the green beans …

The list could go on and on – and I could have too. While some menus can seem a long struggle, this one never got heavy. A fantastic combination of flavours, textures and ingredients, and all that stewing and roasting making for a lunch that was as digestible as it was enjoyable.

You get the idea – it was an absolute feast for the senses.

And a liquid feast too, as Juan “Juanito” Perez weaved a merry thread of superb wines through proceedings, including some absolute crackers beloved of this parish. The Camborio en Rama, Saca de Floracion, La Fleur by Forlong, UBE Miraflores, the Antique Oloroso, the Maria del Valle fino, the Amontillado by Bodegas Tradicion and a sensational Palo Cortado by Antonio Barbadillo.

Superb wines all but also brilliantly matched to the cooking – harmonies and complements, flavours that reinforced each other. Really excellent work.

A really outstanding lunch in fact, one that will live long in the memory. I can’t wait to get back down to Malaga for Round Three.

Coalla Gourmet, Madrid

Coalla Gourmet is an institution up in the north and has long been a friend of this blog. An outstanding selection of sherries (and wines of all kinds), coupled with a superbly efficient web and logistics add up to an awful lot of boxes for my daughters to play with, while the contents of those boxes account for a goodish percentage of the posts on this blog.

There have been some outstanding wines over the years, and although I don’t get up to Gijon as often as I would like, when I do I make a point to stop in at the counter of their cracking space in Cimadevilla for a glass or two of something dry with a sliver or two of top quality ham, or a wedge of first class cheese, or maybe some sardines … and the list could go on and on as they produced hams, cheeses, jars, cans and bottles of quality rations from every corner.

So I was delighted to learn they were opening a store in Madrid, and I am even more delighted now that I have seen it. It is a fantastic space – 350 square meters on two floors – with lots of bar space and plenty of bottles open and cooling – and just like the mother ship in Gijon it is crammed to the rafters with the kind of bib and tucker that makes life worth living.

It opened last Saturday to massive crowds and unanimous applause from every side and has been packing them in ever since. If you haven’t been yet there really isn’t any excuse (unless you don’t like wine, fine food, or fun of course) and there is no doubt that it is a great addition to the Madrid scene – not least for wine lovers. The entire top floor is given over to wines and you can see the muscle of a major distributor here – an absolutely awesome selection of wines from all over Spain and the world, and what is more you can literally take any bottle off the shelf and tuck in, with a very generous corkage policy (free for bottles of €18 or more, bottles below €18 cost €18 in total).

And best of all, it is no more than a 5 minute walk from my home – so I will be able to make regular checks on the wellbeing of Don Ramon and his merry crew.

Welcome to the neighbourhood guys!

Bagá, Jaén

Social networks are so often antisocial but when they actually do the job it is a real treat. This was one such case – I met David, one of the chefs at Bagá a couple of years ago and through the miracle of the above mentioned networks managed to stay in touch. But the miracle didn’t end there: when I posted about a cracking dinner in Madrid recently David posed the excellent question: “when are you coming to Bagá?”. From there it was just a question of getting organized to get the nosebag on.

Now Bagá is in Jaén, capital of the least famous of Andalucia’s six provinces, which has its advantages and its disadvantages. The advantages are those of Jaén, which was a really pleasant surprise, with its castle, cathedral and moorish baths, and above all its utter devotion to the green gold of olive oil. The disadvantage is really only one – the distance from Madrid, but even the Michelin guide recognize that Bagá is a detour (**) and to be honest it is probably worth the trip.

It is a terrific little restaurant – and I mean really little, with only 9 seats in use on the day we had dinner: a bar for three and three tables of two. I gather that pre-covid the capacity was larger: you could probably get a full football team in as long as you didn’t have substitutes. The space is very homey too – in all I reckon it is no more than 50 square metres, and aside from that bar there is no barrier between the guests and the kitchen. The result gives you the impression you are having dinner at a friend’s house, and a friendly friend too. The atmosphere couldn’t have been more friendly and welcoming.

It is also absolutely terrific. Dish after superb dish, some of them truly memorable: the quisquillas de Motril, the ajoblanco, the huevas, the pigeon sausage and the roasted peach, to name just the top five. Some really delightful creations and combinations, and like Jaén itself lots to discover and enjoy.

And of course all those solids need washing down and there were no worries on that score either. A really nice selection of champagnes and white wines, including some classy and classic wines from Jerez, Sanlucar and Montilla Moriles, expertly paired to the tastiest morsels. The standout wine on the night was probably Pandorga, perfect with both deserts and in particular the roast peach.

And all too soon it was over and we were off on our merry way, with Jaén and its friendly locals (three pictured above) in our rear view mirror. But not for long – Bagá is worth a detour, may well be worth the trip, and is certainly worth a second dinner!

Taberna Palo Cortado

Taberna Palo Cortado is an unreal place where unlikely, even impossible things are within reach. Took some colleagues there for dinner and, given free rein to show off the best of el Marco and beyond, it turned into one of those memorable dinners.

We started with champagne – not pictured – and maybe it is less well known what a nice little selection of champers is available here. This bottle was just for refreshing between courses but over the years I have had some serious and high quality bubbles. But it wasn’t long before we got stuck into the superb Andalucian wines for which Palo Cortado is famous.

We kicked off with the De la Riva Fino from Balbaina Alta – with that deep colour, deep haybale and hazelnut and fresh background – like a nut store floating on a mountain stream.

But, as I said, I was given free rein, and next up was la Barajuela Fino – 2016 – and it was the star of the night. What an awesome wine – the fruit and top register, the depth and compactness. Everyone loved it – they always do.

Tragically, it soon ran out and so we tapped an altogether more classic fino – a Panesa from October 2019 – which never let’s you down. Just class, sculpted palomino, with all its nuts in butter.

I then picked a wine slightly out of order – Encrucijado 2015 – the proto palo cortado (by now I was fully warmed up and well into an explanation of the situation pre-phyloxera), should really have come earlier. Butterscotch loveliness but so much finer and more subtle in profile than the heavy old Jerez finos.

By now we are tucking into some world class escabeches – pularda and presa ibérica – and the chosen accompaniment was the VORS Amontillado by Bodegas Tradicion. What a class wine – fine, fragrant, flavourful and elegant. One of the very best in its category.

And then callos, garbanzos, and the absolutely epic oloroso De La Riva. Not a lot to say about this absolutely sensational oloroso, except that it struck me as wonderfully elegant for all its rusty nail and acidity.

By this stage of dinner the intellectual discourse has become fragmented and there is a sense that the battle is won. I cannot remember what we had for dessert, but we accompanied it with a regal old 1955 pedro ximenez from Toro Albala, before a glass of the top class Tradicion brandy to cap off the night.

A fantastic dinner with a fair bit of laughter and a range of wines you can only find in one place in Madrid. Many thanks to Paqui and the team and the less said about Thursday morning the better …

Kaleja

The writer has had a few sensational lunches over the years but some are more sensationaler than others. The most sensational of them all was probably the one I had just under six weeks ago in Kaleja in Malaga.

January is a tricky old month – a combination of hangover and start all over, with added paperwork, and anything you can do to boost morale is too little. And it struck me that if you can’t see a bit of daylight between the clouds overhead then it is time to go and seek out the sun. So spotting a gap in the deadlines I availed myself of the convenient high speed train provided at vast expense to the public purse and shimmied down to Malaga. And I wasn’t just after a bit of winter sun, I was on a mission to have a look at this new venture by legends’ legend Dani Carnero and a crew featuring none other than my good mate Juanito, an absolutely top bloke and seriously talented sommelier in the making.

First impressions were bang on the money. It was January 15, bleak midwinter you might think, but not in Malaga. In Malaga the street was full of people in shorts, drinking beers on terraces and generally enjoying life in a way that is utterly inconsistent with any reasonable definition of the term “winter”. Not only that, but the stroll down from the station to the resto is a lovely one – a beautiful, underrated city this, and if you know where you are going you can pass by the traditional market, Picasso’s house and a few other assorted sights on your way. Timing is also perfect – get a train at a reasonable hour from Madrid, wander over and there is just time for a refreshing caña on the terrace before you get down to business.

But get down to business one must get and there, in the shadow of the castle in an alleyway off the famous view of the walls, is the restaurant itself. And it is the business.

I am not your man if you are after descriptions of interior decoration but this place is elegant. The staff, the uniforms, the layout, the furniture, the understated homage to the barbecue coals on display. But the best of all is the kitchen, because the kitchen has a bar – a minimalist stone surface with subtle lighting and an unbeatable view – because a few lucky diners can sit and enjoy a menu that Dani and the crew are literally making before their eyes.

I was one such lucky diner, and doubly lucky because I was allowed to sit there with all my friends (yep, it was just me). Now I have always found it very relaxing to watch others work, and this would have been a very relaxing time had they not been constantly interrupting my contemplation with new wines and dishes.

And what wines they were. You can see them above, and if you have been following this blog for any length of time you don’t need me to tell you that it was what is known as a festival. Absolute gems from start to finish and all the way through: so much so that the Barajuela Fino almost merged with the crowd. Really a consistently high standard and some excellent, innovative choices, but never straying far from the traditional wines of Andalucia, surely the best wines for this cooking 8 times of every 10. I am not saying this was a standard pairing menu – I gave Juanito instructions not to spare the ponies – but even then the pain at the end was more than reasonable – and in fact the list was very faily priced. In short, even a far better blog than this one will find it easy to enjoy the liquid assortment. For me it was just incredible.

And what dishes they were too. Dani Carnero is known as a man for the stews – pride of place in the kitchen is a traditional Andalucian cooking fire surrounded by bubbling pots – but the word “stew” just does not do justice to a recital like this one. I took the standard menu of fourteen dishes with just a couple of extras that Dani talked me into and looking back it is really hard to argue with any of them. If I had to pick any out as especially good they would be the berza, the magic beans in magically cheesy sauce, the ajoblanco, the rice, the roasted peppers, the hare, the callos de bacalao, the mackerel, the squid, the lentils  … (let’s face it, I couldn’t really pick any out). The bread was crunchy and fleshy, the butter was flavourful. See if you can find fault with it because I could not.

In summary: three hours of absolute treat after absolute treat, in the best possible surroundings.

Because the space you are in is congenial – beautifully decorated in the quietest possible street in central Malaga, but the best of all is that you are surrounded by the absolute salt of the earth. Juanito is a friend and a known great bloke, and I had also had good reports of Dani Carnero, but nothing could have prepared me for the welcome I received down there. It was like dropping into your mate’s house, inviting yourself into the kitchen and having him or her whip you up a world class menu and soak you in world class wines while you chew the cud and generally set the world to rights. (He knows his onions too, your man there.)

A truly memorable experience in a world class restaurant that surely must now go on to conquer the world. I have never been one for real estate investments but if you could buy the land under the seats at that bar in the kitchen I reckon you would be golden.

Many thanks to Juanito, Dani and the whole team and my sincere congratulations. I cannot wait to get back to that stool at the bar for another go but will always remember my first visit.

Cork, Bilbao

A brief visit to an absolutely cracking wine bar in Bilbao – the legendary Cork, which was already a temple for sherry lovers when this blog was in short trousers and, despite the proliferation of competition since, has a selection of wines of the highest class. It is not often I go to a place these days where I am keen to try more than a couple of sherries, but here they had no less than eight that seemed to leap off the shelf.

A real quality line up, starting with Encrucijado 2014, the Manzanilla de Añada 2012 5/11, the original, 2015 saca of La Maruja Manzanilla Pasada, el Amontillado 3/10 by Alexander Jules, el Amontillado Olvidado by Sanchez Romate, oloroso VORS by Piñero, oloroso El Cerro, and an old bottle of the the now out-of-catalogue Medium from Barbadillo (gorgeous with gorgonzola). A really pleasing line up of wines and perfect restoration for a palate dulled by a long, hard day at the mill with only coffee and water for company.

Even better, they were accompanied by an equally varied and almost equally tasty lineup of very pleasant pintxos. Even even better, all that was accompanied by pairing advice and all around friendly chat of Jonathan, owner, enthusiast and gentleman.

There is no doubt that Cork is deserving of a place in the “must visit” category of winebars for sherry fans and winelovers in general. No sooner had I started on my little sherry flight than I found myself wishing I had started with some of the bubbles in the ice box, could find space for the trousseau staring me in the face or the other corkers lurking in the background.

Fantastic evening in a fantastic wine bar. I will be back!

Elkano

Felt obliged to write something about what was nearly a religious experience this summer up on the basque coast near Sebastian: Elkano in Getaria.

On the night we didn’t even have any sherry, preferring to stick to more local brews, but they had a superb list – including the De la Riva blanco macharnudo and many others, so sherry lovers should feel no qualms about going. And indeed even if they didn’t and whatever qualms you may have you should go anyway.

You may have heard or read about Elkano and its famous rodaballo (turbot), grilled on the coals outside the restaurant. You may even, given the appearance recently of ever fancier grill restaurants all over Spain and further afield, have had other exceptional rodaballos or similar fishes that have been mentioned in the same breath. In my case I had even been to Cataria, Elkano’s sister restaurant down in Cadiz, where I had had the best fish that I had ever been served in my life.

But even then I honestly never imagined how absolutely superb this meal was going to turn out to be. Everything was good – the lobster cooked two ways, the hake cheeks three, and the other little fish that came and went – but the turbot was just out of this world. What was staggering was not simply how rich, how juicy, and how perfectly white and fluffy/flakey the fish was, but the sheer range of flavours and consistencies, all of them expertly pointed out by the resident genius Aitor Arregi.

I can still remember how the guys down in Cataria were full of life, literally bouncing around in their excitement as they explained the fish to us. By comparison, Aitor was a man of few words but maximum information. A priest in the temple of the turbot rather than a ringmaster, no frills added and none needed.

Really exceptional and one of those very rare meals you will remember for your whole life. Turbots never tasted that like before and may never do so again.

La Buena Vida

La Buena Vida is a really top class little bistro run by really nice people with top class cooking (including world class cheesecake) and an excellent winelist, including more than enough sherries for even the most obsessive palominohead.

True to its name, it is one of those places where you can try the things that make life worth living: simple or flamboyant cooking (in truffle season oyoyoy) and wines from every corner of the world and right across the spectrum.

A colleague and I had a relatively simple lunch by la Buena Vida standards – níscalos (saffron cap mushrooms) with potatoes, mallard and that quite splendid cheesecake, washed down pretty liberally with Fino Innocente (not as easy to find as it should be) and the majestic Tradición Amontillado.

The good life indeed!

A 2017 manzanilla La Jaca in Taberna Verdejo

Whereas I tend to pull faces when I get given really old wines I have no problem with the occasional manzanilla with a couple of years in the bottle. They get that touch of oxidation but remain very fine – no inclination towards the potency of a manzanilla pasada but a little bit of the flavour.

This one, a half bottle of La Jaca that had been filled in June 2017, was no exception to the rule. Still fragrant on the nose, but a little bit of old fruit in there with the chamomile, like one of those fruit teas, but wheras the fruit teas always smell better than they taste, this was just fine on the palate. Still fresh and zingy, had a nice dry, nutty palate and if not quite a hint of toffee maybe just a suggestion of nougat.

Very nice little wine, and absolutely at home in what is surely the loveliest little tavern in town.